One of the best ways to settle into growing your own food is to change your perspective on the growing season. Gardening is not just a summer activity. Depending on your zone, gardening is something that can happen year round. All it takes is some careful planning and persistence.
I will be the first to agree that the transition from busy end-of-summer harvest to planting seeds in the fall is a challenge. But providing your table with fresh produce late in the season is well worth the effort. You will be so glad you stayed with it! Still not convinced? Additional perks of fall gardening include fewer pests and cooler weather, making outside garden work a joy.
Before you get out your seeds and get started, here are a few things you need to keep in mind.
Know when to expect your first hard frost.
If you don’t know the date, contact your county extension office. Keep this in mind when selecting your crops, since you don’t want lose your plants after pouring all that effort into planting them in the first place.
Make sure you know the difference between tender and semi-hardy vegetables.
Tender vegetables such as tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini, pole beans, and okra cannot tolerate any frost. If you want a fall harvest of these crops you need to figure out the frost date and plant accordingly.
Semi-hardy vegetables such as beets, lettuce, carrots, kale, etc. will tolerate a certain amount of frost and cooler temperatures. Some semi-hardy crops however are more tolerant than others, so do your research. 🙂
Have your season extenders ready to go.
These would include cloches, floating row covers, straw for mulching, etc. I have had great results with floating row covers — in my zone 6b garden I have been able to grow and harvest lettuce under a cover until February, which is when I plant my spring crop.
Here are a few easy to grow vegetables we like to plant in the fall. All of these are semi-hardy and many will continue to produce long after frost if provided with some protection:
Radishes. These are a quick and easy crop. They only take three weeks to harvest so I can plant them in mid-August, and continue right on through October.
Lettuce. I begin sowing my seeds in August, and continue until Thanksgiving. In October I cover my lettuce beds with a floating row cover. In December, when the cold weather really sets in, I cover them with a thick layer of hay for mulch. I just lift the row cover and pack the hay in around the plants. Remember to water! When the weather is cooler it is easy to forget that the garden still needs water in order to grow. You can read here for more information on how to grow lettuce.
Beets. I plant a few rows of beets in August. While beets are classified as a semi-hardy vegetable, I have not had great success with them after frost, even when they are covered. I plant and harvest them all at once, usually in October or November. We remove the tops and eat those, then store the roots in the refrigerator or ferment them as pickles.
Swiss chard. I plant chard in August, putting it in right along with the beets. Unlike the beets however, I have had success with this crop protected under a row cover or a plastic cloche. I have even managed to keep it going throughout the winter and into the spring. I harvest the outer leaves only as we need them.
Carrots. Fall carrots are planted in late summer and harvested in early fall. We like the Paris Market variety although this year I had much better success with my spring crop than I did my fall planting. The warm August temperatures have not made germination easy.
Do you plant a fall garden? What are some crops you have found to be successful?
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